Carlsbad Caverns National Park is one of the great natural sites in the United States. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is located in Southeastern New Mexico in the Guadalupe Mountains about 18 miles from Carlsbad, New Mexico and some 150 miles from El Paso, Texas.
Named after the city of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic (which translates in English to Carlsbad), Carlsbad Caverns National Park itself is pretty big at 46,000 acres. Most of the land is protected wilderness area where camping is allowed with a permit from the visitors center which is above the main site in the park.
The visitor’s center is very informative and is full of knowledgeable workers that are helpful and give great recommendations. The center itself is also the launching point for your visit to the caves.
It has two elevators that go down 750 feet below the surface to the caves. Once down in the caves, there are a few circuits you can walk. The longest is just under two miles long with some slippery uphill walks-older people should use caution. It will probably take most people two hours to walk the circuit with stopping, reading the information signs and the picture taking you’ll do.
Walking through the caverns is like being in another world-literally. It feels like you’re in something out of Jurassic Park or at least the Jurassic Period. You can’t help but be mesmerized by the limestone rock formations. Stalactites and Stalagmites are everywhere and fantastic columns have developed through the centuries.
The forces of water are on display everywhere in the caves. It has crafted the look and feel of the caverns. The air in the caves is strange because it’s very dry as you’d expect but it is also moist from the water. The air is also pretty chilly so do wear a coat or at least a sweatshirt when you go down there.
Carlsbad Caverns has several chambers or rooms in the cave complex. The largest and most important cave chamber is called the big room. It literally seems to go on forever and you don’t want it to end. It is gorgeous and seriously enchanting which is fitting in New Mexico, as New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment.
I’m hardly a geologist but I have been in a lot of caves in my travels and the caves in Carlsbad Caverns National Park are second to none. And for the record, in the scale of caves in National Parks in the United States, Carlsbad Caverns National Park buries Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky-not even close.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is also 40 miles or so from Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which is just over the border in Texas on the road to El Paso. So if you’re heading south to El Paso you’ll be treated to a great drive through the Guadalupe Mountains and also through another National Park. It’s not as impressive as Carlsbad Caverns National Park but it’s still really great nonetheless.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is not the easiest place to get to on its own, as it isn’t the most conveniently located park for visiting purposes. However, it’s only a few hours drive from El Paso, Albuquerque, and Lubbock and makes a great stop on any road trip across the southwest. It won’t you long to get to the park from any of those cities because the speed limit is 85 most of the way on those roads!
So get out to the park and see one of the premier natural sites in the United States. Oh, and just one more piece of advice. After you visit the park and if you’re heading south toward El Paso, make sure you fill up your tank at the gas station in the small town outside Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Reason being there isn’t another gas station for like 120 miles. Ain’t that America!
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